The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

This debut set in a dystopian near future is an absorbing story of boundaries tested, forbidden friendships made, propaganda and questioning, and developing the courage to find your own voice and speak the truth.

Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, sandwiched between Jed, the eldest and Trig, the youngest, she feels invisible and unimportant. Jed is held in high regard by his parents, teachers and community in the same way as all the eldest children in Fennis Wick where Maggie and her family live. The inhabitants of this town are enclosed and protected from the outside world by a boundary. They are told that beyond this barrier the dirty, dangerous, deceitful wanderers roam and the Quiet War rages. As this quietly menacing and unsettling story unfolds Maggie and the reader discover that the eldest may not be being singled out for something special but for something sinister instead.

The voice of Maggie, the story’s narrator, is compelling and matures as the storyline progresses. It is her meeting with Una, a wanderer girl who is desperate for help that sparks the change. Trusting and innocent at the start of the book Maggie starts to question the rules and realises that she has been told lies for many years. There are many themes running through the narrative that resonate today. The boundaries are not only between places but also between people. The sinister controlling of people’s attitudes towards those who are ‘different’ or who do not conform is well written as is the creation of this alternative but believable world.

The adventure through which the themes are conveyed is tense, exciting and well plotted. There were a couple of moments when as a reader you want to hold your breath and the children’s courage will keep young readers gripped. The wonderful characters including Maggie herself, the lovable Trig and of course Una, the wanderer girl are engaging and believable.  When I started reading this book I wasn’t sure what to expect but was completely won over by Kirsty Applebaum’s exciting debut. This is dystopian fiction for middle grade readers with an understanding of what matters to children; family, friendship and being valued.

Thank you very much to the lovely people at Nosy Crow publishers who sent me my review copy. The book, published on 4th April, has a fabulous cover designed by Nicola Theobald that features artwork by Matt Saunders.



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